Nanik Amarnath Bhardwaj was born on 11th September 1911 at Kapurthala, Punjab near Lahore. He lived in Lahore during his early years before the family came to Patiala and settled down there. He came to be known in the cricketing world as Lala Amarnath.
He scored a century in his debut first class match for Southern Punjab against the Marylebone Cricket Club in 1933. The Indian team selectors were so impressed with his first knock that he was able to get into the test team and made his debut the same year against England at the Bombay Gymkhana in December. It was the first test match that India played at home ground.
Lala Amarnath became the first Indian test centurion and he got his century on debut. India were 21/2 when he came to the crease and counter attacked in such a way that he got his century in just under a couple of hours. He went on to make 118 in that match and that was his only test century as he never made another again.
He was a wicket keeper, right hand bat and a right arm medium pace bowler. He bowled from a short run up with a unique delivery from the wrong foot. He played 24 test matches and scored 878 runs with one test century and four half centuries. He took 45 test wickets. He played 186 first class matches scoring 10,426 runs at an average of 41.37 with 30 centuries and a highest score of 262. He took 457 wickets.
He was the first post independence captain of India taking over from Nawab of Pataudi Senior when he led India to Australia in 1948.
Earlier in 1936, he was sent back from an English tour by the Captain Maharaj Kumar, also known as Vizzy, on grounds of indiscipline. He was an aggressively outspoken person. Between 1936 and 1946, he was in the wilderness taking an extensive sabbatical before he played his fourth test in 1946. This was mainly because of his outspoken nature against the team management and the dominance of the royal families on matters of selection. In addition to the politics that worked against him, the Second World War also interrupted his best years like it did for many other cricketers in the world.
In the 1946 tour to England, he was India’s premier wicket taker. He had a five wicket haul in the first innings of the Lord’s test that year. During his 1948 tour to Australia, Sir Donald Bradman was appreciative of his aggressive captaincy. Lala Amarnath earned a distinction of getting Bradman out hit wicket but when Bradman scored his hundredth first class century during that tour, Lala was the first to congratulate him. Lala eulogised Sir Donald Bradman.
Lala Amarnath was also the first Indian captain to win a test series against Pakistan in 1952. He played his last test match against Pakistan at Calcutta during that series in December 1952.
Lala Amarnath went on to become one of the patriarch figures for Indian cricket as he was very active in his later years as a selector, manager, coach and even as a broadcaster. The class, quality and character of Lala Amarnath as an all rounder are unquestionable. All his three sons played first class cricket. Mohinder Amarnath and Surinder Amarnath played test cricket and the third son Rajender Amarnath played first class cricket both in India and England.
Lala Amarnath died on 5th August 2000 at New Delhi and writing on hearing about his death, Sir Donald Bradman called him “an absolutely charming and wonderful ambassador for the game of cricket”.